REVIEW: Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), John August & Seth Grahame-Smith (story), Dan Curtis (TV series)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter

Dark Shadows is a film inhabited by the Gothic art direction that has become Tim Burton’s staple in addition to the comic macabre his pale people act out.  Lately Johnny Depp has been the pale muse front and center in Burton’s productions, becoming just as much a staple of his work as those faded worlds. This latest collaboration is nothing really new for either of them; a vampire invading the gloriously tie-dyed era of the 1970s is a perfect example of a Gothic force imposing itself on a world of color.

The crux of the story is fairly simple.  Barnabas Collins (Depp) is turned into a vampire and imprisoned by the witch Angelique (Eva Green) after she kills the other woman he loved.  His suffering is extended for all eternity, so when he emerges from that chained-up coffin nearly 200 years later, he is a very bloodthirsty fish-out-of-water.  He meets up with the present-day Collins family, who happen to live in the same menacing, faded mansion as he did.

Upon arriving he meets the drunken butler (Jackie Earle Haley) and the grouchy matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer).  He explains his situation to her, she agrees to hide it, and they tell the rest of the family that he is a distant cousin.  Dark Shadows is based on a television show, though Burton leaves his distinct visual mark on the material.  He has always been more gifted at creating worlds than telling stories in them, and he does his best with the sloppy, seemingly aimless screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith.  Accenting the comedy was the right way to go here, and Dark Shadows is often very funny.  Depp and Green both give inspired, over-the-top performances as they continue their centuries-long magic duel in the era of Vietnam and hippies.

There is a fantasy much darker than the supernatural one operating beneath the surface of this latest Burton/Depp concoction, though.  The most troubling thing about Dark Shadows is not its sloppy storytelling but its disguised contempt for its plentiful female characters.  Angelique’s thirst for revenge is borne out of that male fantasy that a woman becomes so obsessed with him that she turns delusional and incoherent without his presence.  Then, of course, she must be scolded into submission or death.

This principle is also true for Helena Bonham Carter’s character, the psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman.  She is a boozing, pill-popping psychiatrist who throws herself at Barnabus simply because he pays her one simple compliment.  As in Sweeney Todd, Bonham Carter’s character comes up short in her director husband’s increasingly cruel roles for her.

It’s hard to take such a lightheartedly demented film like Dark Shadows so seriously, but its troubling misogyny travels with Barnabus from the dark ages as well.  There are quips early on by Elizabeth and the new maid Victoria (Bella Heathcote) about women being vastly superior to men, but it’s not long until Barnabus arrives and they all more or less succumb to his various charms.

For a PG-13 film, the amount of sex and death that is hinted at or partially shown is somewhat startling.  In such a finely veneered world it can almost seem barbaric, and yet when Angelique and Barnabus actually do have “sex” they remain fully clothed as they toss each other around the room.  Burton remains in frantic close-up trying to avoid what must be the studio’s worst fear: actually showing something.  He breaks his tradition of well-composed shots because this movie is afraid of the sex it so blatantly wants us to know is going on.  In this respect it resembles the Twilight films more than anything, even if its vampire is more of the Nosferatu variety.

Grade: C-

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Five movie characters who are older than they appear

This post is inspired by a recent cameo in X-Men: First Class that confirms for the film series what followers of the comic  have known for a while: Wolverine is older than Professor Xavier.  We thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at characters in movies that are much older than they actually look.

Wolverine (X-Men)- You wouldn’t think Hugh Jackman would be older than Patrick Stewart, but in the superhero universe anything is possible.  As Wolverine, he slices and dices through countless enemies (in a very PG-13 way, of course).  It’ll  come in handy when he needs to wait in line to sign up for Social Security.

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REVIEW: Let Me In

Let Me In
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Matt Reeves (screenplay), John Ajvide Lindqvist (book)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, and Elias Koteas

Cinema purists (this one included) were dreading the inevitable day they would have to sit through an American remake to the beloved Swedish film Let the Right One In. It was the vampire movie that didn’t suck, and we’d be damned if Hollywood was going to take that away from us with a big budget redo with A-list stars. Some watchers would never let this one in; never consider the possibility that it could be good.  They’d be missing out.

As it turns out, Let Me In is a surprisingly competent remake of the excellent Swedish version.  Like so many other films, this one originated in literature, though the films are more widely known.  Matt Reeves, known mostly for Cloverfield, takes the story from Sweden to Reagan-era New Mexico.  A seemingly odd choice, but setting it in a desert during winter effectively recreates the barren Swedish landscape so vital to the mood of the original.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Let the Right One In

Image courtesy of Available Images

Let the Right One In
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: John Ajvide Lindvist (novel & screenplay)
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragner, and Henrik Dahl.

In the age of Twilight, the once mythical mythology of the vampire has been demystified and defanged in order to appeal to tweens and easily-offended soccer moms.  Thankfully Tomas Alfredson sticks it to Bella and Edward in this bloody tale of a tween boy and the vampire he befriends.

Let the Right One In is a meticulously crafted work of art.  Each camera angle is deliberate in its haunting beauty, and each sentence  delves deeper into the characters or the story.   Nothing is wasted, a sign of a great independent filmmaker at work.

The story is kept simple, though it is filled with allegory relating to Swedish socialism.  Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a young boy who gets picked on at school because he is weak and timid.  He has no friends until a girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in next door and starts showing up after dark to help him solve his Rubik’s Cube.  The charm of these early scenes  resonate because of their simplicity and also because of the darkness that follows.

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